Lucia, the critically acclaimed Kannada film has two lessons for its business audience; despite taking a planned route to build a brand, there’s always an unknown element that will draw a customer to it, and the potential of crowd funding to convert ideas to products and dreams to reality
After living for nearly three years in Bengaluru and after many unsuccessful attempts at getting my hands on a subtitled copy of Mani Ratnam’s debut Kannada film, Pallavi Anu Pallavi, I finally got to see my first Kannada movie- Lucia, in the theatre. While the film has made news for being a critically acclaimed, massive crowd funded success, what’s also interesting is that PVR has decided to release the film with English subtitles, thus making it accessible to people with little or no understanding of the language.
I have heard varied opinions on watching subtitled films; that the text is a distraction, the true meaning of the dialogue is often lost in translation, the movie is never the same without flavor of the original language it was made in. Or, at the other end of the spectrum; that it opens up whole new worlds to true lovers of cinema and that it is probably the most effective and entertaining way to learn a new language. Regardless of all this, I see the decision to subtitle Lucia as one that makes a lot of economic sense, particularly in a cosmopolitan city like Bengaluru, which sees a large influx of people who do not speak the local language. In a state where the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce is notorious for regressively seeking bans on films dubbed from other regional languages and restricting number of theatres for screening non-Kannada films, this move is such a healthy, positive step forward in increasing the saleability of a film and allowing it to be judged only on the basis of its quality and not by unfairly shutting out the competition and depriving viewers of the choices they should have.
At the heart of it all are some profound questions about satisfaction and being content with life, about the restless human need to constantly aspire or dream for something better, about whether what we dream for is really better than where we are at, or it is just a matter of perspective and the proverbial grass merely appears greener.
A “better” life
Getting back to the movie, Lucia is about dreams, specifically, lucid dreams where a fictitious drug allows an insomniac protagonist to have vivid and controlled dreams that continue where they left off across sleep cycles. The scenes shift between his life as an usher in a cinema theatre and his dreams where he is a successful actor, which are shot in monochrome, with a host of characters from his real life appearing in them. As the film progresses, the line between reality and dream blurs and there is a spectacular climactic pull of the rug that leaves the viewer mind blown. Lucia has an ironclad screenplay, a necessity for a movie with such an intelligent theme and scenes that initially appear contrived or lacking logic make perfect sense at the end. But, the dreams in Lucia are merely a device for what is inherently a fable on the frailty of human nature. At the heart of it all are some profound questions about satisfaction and being content with life, about the restless human need to constantly aspire or dream for something better, about whether what we dream for is really better than where we are at, or it is just a matter of perspective and the proverbial grass merely appears greener.
Stuck in sepia
One of the interesting sub-plots in Lucia is that of an aging, stubborn theatre owner who screens only Kannada films, refusing to adapt to changing market needs and vehemently opposing other options that make better financial sense. While such a principled stand is commendable, one would think that the inflexibility and lack of adaptability it entails can be killing, according to conventional business wisdom. However, there are enough and more exceptions to this that defy explanation. Consider Landmark closing their flagship bookstore in Chennai as it was unable to compete with online retailers and contrast that with good old Higginbothams in the same city, which has stood the test of time in spite of the fact that there has been little or no change to their business model or storefront over the years. In the food industry in Bangalore, MTR which seemingly operates in a setup frozen in time and Koshy’s whose interiors are rundown or retro with an old world charm depending on which side of the fence you are on, continue to be packed with patrons. And it is not just old timers yearning for memories of a time gone past who frequent them, but yuppie youth do so too. It is not that these businesses are deliberately not changing with the times but it is more like they are operating on a “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” principle. The question that begs to be asked then is, why some of these aren’t broken yet while their competitors have shut shop? Is it because these brands have built an intangible nostalgia value, the techniques to which can be taught at no business school? Or, is it merely because they have been consistent and uncompromising in doing what they do best? Whatever may be the case, it makes for a fascinating case study. Among all things that are a planned part of a business’s branding strategy, it is something that is unknowingly built up that catches the consumer’s fancy and continues to keep it going.
Lucia was made with finances sourced from 110 investors who were roped in using the crowd funding technique through social media. In the film industry, where producers can force creative compromises, this method of film production can allow filmmakers a degree of freedom that they do not usually have and allow them to experiment with ideas that might have conventionally been considered risky. It is not that this system is risk-free but dividing the risk among multiple stakeholders minimises the impact of failure. Crowd funding is an exciting development that has so much potential across all areas of business. It opens up an avenue of opportunities for people with great ideas who might otherwise be unable to bring them to fruition. Today, there are a host of websites for technology startups, where they can pitch an idea, maybe with a prototype, and set a target on the funding they want to raise. In turn, individuals contributing funds are offered anything from the product itself to even a share of the profits based on the size of their investment. Of course, there are limits on the funds that can be raised and there can be a lack of accountability, compared to what traditional investors demand. However, the advantage of broadcasting one’s pitch to a limitless audience and the fact that investors, small and big, may be more forthcoming given the risk mitigation, allows ideas to go places they have never been to before.